Winning Championships with Big Data?

Toronto_Maple_Leafs_logo.svgWhen I talk to people about big data and data analytics I try to tailor the message to their experience level. For example, if I’m talking to data scientists I’m generally talking at a much different level than if I’m talking to people who have no clue what the term ‘big data’ means.

For the latter group, I try to find popular examples of data analytics to help them grasp the concepts behind analytics and big data. One of the examples I use often is the movie Moneyball. Most people I talk to have seen the movie and with a little explanation, they can see how the movie and storyline evolves from the use of ‘old’ methods of instinct and ‘rules of thumb’ to analyze baseball players to the ‘new’ methods of data analysis.

Using the example of Moneyball helps people grasp the concepts of data analysis and understand how data can be used to drive decision making capabilities (ot at least assist with decisions).

I like using examples like Moneyball. It’s not quite an example of big data in action, but it is a great example of how organizations can use data to make better decisions.

This morning, I read another example of a sports team using data analytics and big data to build a better team and organization. The Toronto Maple Leafs have recently began using big data methods and systems to analyze data from across the National Hockey League (NHL) to assist in driving new decisions about players, lineups and the overall operations of the team.They are following the Moneyball example and replacing their hunches with data to attempt to make better decisions.

Time will tell if the Maple Leafs win a championship in the next few years. While that challenge is quite daunting, a major challenge for the Maple Leafs (and any other organization) is to apply data-driven decision making to their organization while also keeping those ‘hunches’ around to help guide overall decisions.

Data is wonderful but data works best when you find ways to combine that data with instinct and experience. That’s how you win championships and grow revenue using big data.


How not to make critical decisions

I ran across IBM’s “How NOT to run a midsize business…” site and immediately spent some time sifting through the site.

You’ve most likely seen the cards from running around the web these days.  IBM has taken the idea of those cards and applied them to the midsize business (and business in general).  You should jump over and read through some of the posts there…there are some that are quite funny.

While skimming through the site, I noticed this one:


Now…at first blush, this is quite funny…but I’ve actually seen a similar situation at one organization I worked at.

The company was a small business that had been started by a gentleman who fancied himself a bit of a sportsman.  The company wasn’t badly run – in fact it was a well run and fairly profitable.  The one issue that caused a lot of consternation within this organization was the way in which the CEO / Owner made the “hard” decisions.

The decision making process used by this CEO was similar to the “…let the dart decide..”  in the cartoon above.    He had a few different approaches but the one he used most was a Golf Course’s Driving Range.  He would take his golf clubs to the local driving range and pick out particular areas of the range to use as ‘decision points’. This driving range is well known for having flags and targets around the range and the CEO would call out which flag/target would be for which decision.

The CEO would spend the afternoon hitting golf balls and based on his pre-determined flags/targets and some form of internal ‘counter’ to help him make decisions.   Now…I won’t say that he never made good decisions, but I will say it felt very much like throwing darts at dart board.  The decisions were at times random and at times prescient.

Regardless of the outcome of this particular CEO’s decision making process, the way in which he made these decisions was mind boggling and would drive the employees crazy.   While this CEO was able to be successful with his approach, it doesn’t make it right.

Making decisions based on dart boards, golf driving ranges or any other form of randomized approaches isn’t an ideal way to run an organization. While it may work for a while, it most likely won’t work all the time.  Don’t follow this CEO’s footsteps…unless you just like spending time at the driving range.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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